Evangelize! (But Why?)

January 2003

Este artículo: en español

“We have an obligation to be ‘evangelizing Catholics.’” So says Sister Antonio Heaphy, Director of the Office of Evangelization of the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Writing in the newspaper of the Archdiocese (Oct. 25, 2002), she defines evangelization: It is “to grow in our own faith.” Well, perhaps. It is “to work with all people of good will to transform society with the values of Jesus Christ.” Well, maybe. And it is “to share our faith with others.” Yes, that’s the essence of it.

As for sharing our faith, Sister asks, “Does this involve preaching, moralizing, or putting guilt trips on people because they have not been inside a church for a long time?” Her answer is “No.” Oh, what a relief! To share our faith we won’t actually have to say anything controversial, won’t have to mention sin and salvation.

Of course, when it comes to “transforming society,” we can hardly do that without “preaching, moralizing, or putting guilt trips on people.” But when it comes to sharing our faith, we need not do that, probably because it just isn’t all that important.

So, then, how are we to share our faith? Sister answers: “It means taking a ‘gentle approach’ in inviting a friend, a neighbor, a co-worker or a relative who no longer practices the faith, to join you at a religious or parish celebration. Perhaps your parish is planning a special celebration for Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or perhaps your family is planning to celebrate a baptism, a wedding anniversary or a special family celebration that involves a ceremony in church…. This could be what we might call an ‘evangelizing moment’ in the life of this person, a special moment when you are helping someone to get in touch with the faith that has apparently been abandoned. We invite him/her back to share a ‘faith moment’ with us.”

First, you notice that we only invite those who no longer practice “the faith” — presumably that means the Catholic faith. So if you’re a Protestant, and certainly if you’re a Hindu or a Wiccan or an agnostic or an atheist, we don’t care about you. Secondly, this type of evangelization is done by inviting people to “ceremonies.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but how effective is it? We see relatives and friends attend the Baptism of a church-going couple’s baby. The next Sunday, those relatives and friends are nowhere to be seen, for the Baptism was not a “faith moment,” it was treated as a “rite of passage.” Yes, we see Catholics fill our churches on Christmas and Easter, but the next Sunday the church is back to being half full. Obviously, many Catholics only need a “faith moment” twice a year.


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New Oxford Notes: January 2003

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